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Social Cognition - Social Cognition And Social Knowledge

age differences biases adults dispositional beliefs

In contrast to the influence of limitations on processing resources on social judgment biases, social cognition research also suggests that when strong beliefs and knowledge are activated automatically, they can influence social judgments in general, and invite social judgment biases in particular. Walter Mischel suggests that there are individual differences in the strength of social representations of rules, beliefs, and attitudes that are associated with specific situations. Thus, when individuals encounter specific situations, their belief systems trigger emotional reactions and goals that are closely linked to those situations, which in turn drive social judgments.

Blanchard-Fields and colleagues suggest that the observed dispositional biases described above might occur when older adults’ strongly held beliefs about how the particular character should have acted in the specific situation are violated. For example, in the case of Doug and his wife, older adults may have blamed Doug not because they did not have the cognitive capacity to do so, but because he violated the strongly held belief that marriage comes before career. Accordingly, the investigators examined the degree to which limitations on processing resources and/or strong social beliefs and social rules accounted for dispositional biases observed in older adults. They found that older adults produced more dispositional biases when placed under the cognitive constraint of a time limit to respond. However, they also found that older adults produced more social beliefs and rules pertaining to the main character than young adults did. This accounted for age differences in dispositional biases above and beyond the influence of time constraints. This provides evidence against a cognitive resource limitation explanation. It appears that the degree to which a social rule has been violated determines when a dispositional bias will be made. Such findings suggest that a social knowledge-based explanation of social judgments is a viable alternative to limitations on cognitive resources.

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